Katherine Young, a poet and translator, gave this interview on BLARB, the blog of the esteemed Los Angeles Review of Books. In 2018, Academic Studies Press published Young’s translation of the trilogy, Farewell, Aylis, by Akram Aylisli, currently a political prisoner in his native Azerbaijan (Young has spearheaded efforts to free him, including a recent petition circulated on social media). Olga Zilberbourg reviewed this novel, which Punctured Lines noted in our post. As we also noted, an excerpt from his novella, A Fantastical Traffic Jam, translated by Young, can be found here.
Young’s latest project is the translation of Look at Him by Anna Starobinets (Slavica, forthcoming 2020), an open, unflinching account of her abortion that was controversial when it came out in Russia. As Young says, “Women don’t talk about these things, even with their partners, so to write a book in which you expose the most intimate details of your body and the choices you made medically is a violation of a lot of subtle taboos about women who are supposed to grin and bear their trials and tribulations.”
Young also talks about being a poet and how much Russian poetry has shaped her own: “I feel very much more informed by Russian poets than most American poets. I’ve read Walt Whitman, but I don’t identify with him the same way I might say Alexander Pushkin or Mikhail Lermontov or Anna Akhmatova.”
You can read the full interview here: https://blog.lareviewofbooks.org/interviews/making-people-feel-uneasy-joanna-chen-conversation-katherine-young/
Here’s a fascinating study about the role that the Soviet Union played in the lives of Muslim women from Central Asia. This was filed by Özge Öz Döm, a scholar at Yildirim Beyazit University in Anakara, Turkey. Her thesis is that “even though the Soviet officials had a genuine intention for the emancipation of Central Asian women from the patriarchal structure both in the public and private spheres of life, the policies and their implementation were shaped in accordance with the basic motive of regime survival. In the first years of the Soviet regime, mostly ideological intentions shaped the women’s emancipation project. However, in time, the Soviet officials needed to make more reforms in the political, economic and socio-cultural areas not just for the ideological aims such as emancipation of the women, but also for the survival of the Soviet Union.”
Muslim Women in Central Asia
In fiction, I have seen this conflict reflected most directly in Guzel Yakhina’s novel, Zuleikha, recently translated to English by Lisa Hayden. This history also provides useful context for Akram Aylisli‘s work, in particular his trilogy from the 1960s, People and Trees (I read this book in Russian under the title Люди и деревья).
The researcher makes a point in this paper that seems relevant for Punctured Lines: “The studies about women in the Soviet and post-Soviet eras are mostly concerned with the European parts of the Soviet Union, and neglect the Muslim women under Soviet rule. Therefore, the first problem related to the literature regarding Central Asian women is that there are insufficient numbers of studies regarding this area; and the second problem is that the Western scholars studying this subject sometimes fail to understand the meaning of Islamic based customs and traditions to Central Asian women as well as men. So, this study also attempts to make a contribution to gender studies literature regarding Central Asian women “
Writing from Central Asia is virtually unknown to English readers. Shelley Fairweather-Vega, who translates Uzbek and Kazakh literature, is trying to change that: “I’d love to move readers away from thinking, ‘how unusual!’ to thinking ‘how beautiful!’” Read her interview here:https://globalvoices.org/2019/09/02/decolonising-and-demystifying-central-asian-literature-through-translation/